The Muslim artisans who create kanwars for Hindu pilgrims

While the kanwar pilgrimage is carried out by Hindu devotees, popularly known as ‘kanwariyas’, not may know that Muslims also play an important role in this annual religious fair.

The decorated ‘kanwars’ – made of bamboo and used to ferry the holy Ganga water by pilgrims – are made by Muslim community artisans in sub-urban Jwalapur of Uttarakhand. These kanwars are so popular, pilgrims prefer them over other products.

For decades, Muslim families here have been associated with the craft. After Uttarakhand was carved out from Uttar Pradesh in 2000, the pilgrimage saw a sharp rise in arrival of kanwariyas. Muslim artists from neighbouring districts and states such as Uttar Pradesh have also started coming in large numbers during the season to meet the increased demand for kanwars.

Mohammed Ijrael, who has been making kanwars since the late 1980s in a congested cluster of Kaithwada colony in Jwalapur, waits in anticipation for the Shravan Kanwar pilgrimage every year, as his earnings go then. r.

“Like a farmer waits for the monsoon to irrigate his crops, we artists wait for this seasonal kanwar pilgrimage. Our earnings by selling kanwars feed our families for major part of the year, and we too feel spiritually blessed to be part of this religious fair,” Ijrael says.

Women family members also pitch in to help Mohammed meet the deadline to complete kanwars. This year three crore kanwariyas are expected to arrive in Haridwar, according to the district police administration.

“It’s a major earning source for dozens of families like us in our colony, we ensure we keep up with the latest trends and offer kanwariyas something different like Indian tricolour kanwars,” says Samina, Ijrael’s daughter- in- law, who is busy decorating the kanwars.

Whatever the design is, the emphasis is on making kanwars that are light, as the pilgrims have to walk at least a hundred kilometres during the pilgrimage. Most of the kanwar shops at Kawar Bazaar of Pantdeep, situated in between the Ganga river and canal, and Har ki Pauri are run by Muslims, where one can get a kanwar for as low as Rs 100 and going up to thousands, depending on the material, design, weight, height and decorative items used.

Furthermore, these Muslim artists ensure that they too live a pious life during while making the kanwars, in deference to the religious sentiments of the kanwariyas.

“It’s essential to adhere to religious ethics, as the dos and don’ts of every pilgrimage is sacred. Both Hindus and Muslims live mutually together with harmony in Haridwar. Holy Ganga is as sacred for us as it is for Hindus,” Rao Affaq Ali, zila panchayat vice chairperson, said.

First Published:
Jul 18, 2019 16:21 IST

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